June 23, 2024
Doyle's Guide

Editorial Commentary – WA Construction, 2015

Market Overview

A significant tightening in the resources market has seen a large number of new projects either abandoned, shelved or down-scaled and any of the Western Australian market’s non-resources related large construction and infrastructure projects are either approaching completion or still part of a thought-bubble.  The end result of such has been lean times for front-end construction lawyer outside of some small to mid-sized government initiatives and property developer centric matters.

Conversely the contentious construction market has seen a significant uptick.  WA has long been a market where construction disputes have been conducted in a relatively well-mannered fashion and often proceeded towards adjudication with both parties having a firm eye on their comparative financial strength and the small size of the market.  In recent times though the participants in construction disputes have been more inclined to begin the process and, once begun, take a more aggressive and indeed traditionally litigious approach.

With respect our rankings has been that those lawyers and firms whose focus is on contentious matters do tend to feature more prominently in our 2015 rankings.

New Entrant Success

There’s been no shortage of lateral moves and new entrants in the WA construction market  over the past 18 months.  As a guide:

  • Sept 13 – Beth Cubitt joins Clyde & Co from King & Wood Mallesons
  • Feb 14 – Stephen McComish joins Jones Day from Allens
  • July 14 – Simon Bellas joines Jones Day from Norton Rose
  • Nov 14 – Brendan Reilly joins Squire Patton Boggs from Allion Legal
  • March 15 – Paul Riethmuller joins Jones Day from Ashurst

The simplistic result of such has been:

  • Jones Day establishing a 3 partner construction practice in the Perth market;
  • Clyde & Co establishing a 2 partner construction practice in the Perth market; and
  • Squire Patton Boggs doubling the size of the firm’s Perth construction team.

These movements combined with a market focus on contentious construction matters has seen each of these firms make a significant impact in our 2015 rankings.

Existing Players?

Although the focus and attention may well have been centered on international firms establishing or ramping up their presence in the WA construction market to a large extent it’s the existing and established players who still sit atop our rankings.

In any Australian jurisdiction the Clayton Utz presence looms large in construction and while that holds true in WA, 2015 has seen a dimming of the lights of the practice generally and the individuals associated with that practice.  The departure of Adrienne Parker (to Norton Rose Fulbright) didn’t help but, rightly or wrongly, there’s a view that Clayton Utz may well be directing a large portion of the firm’s energies with respect to construction in an Eastern and national direction.

Likewise, question marks sit as to whether Corrs Chambers Westgarth can balance the contractor/principal equation and just where the firm’s outstanding Perth contractor focused construction practice fits within that mix.  For now though the firm sits atop our rankings in both front and back-end construction matters and practice leader Chris Ryder continues to be far and away the most well regarded lawyer in the market.

Amongst others, Norton Rose Fulbright has experienced a degree of flux in recent times.  After investing heavily in young gun Simon Bellas (who then joined Jones Day in June 2014) the firm was forced to rebuild and did so by way of luring Adrienne Parker (ex Clayton Utz) to re-establish a Perth construction practice.   For now the results look promising.  Not so for NRF’s fellow global behemoth DLA Piper who after a fledgling appearance in our rankings appear to have followed to the Roaring 40’s back to Melbourne.

Finally, the rise in contentious construction matters has seen market stalwarts Jackson McDonald and Laval Legal strengthen their market positions.  As mid-level contentious construction experts these two local firms have leveraged off market conditions to their advantage and look likely to continue to do so in the near future.

Bright Spots at the Bar

Regardless of practice area, the Western Australian Bar presents a consistent lack of depth at both Senior and Junior Counsel levels so the addition of two promising new talents in the area of construction disputes is welcomed with open arms.

Brian Millar, a former Allens construction litigation focused Partner who has returned to WA after beginning his career at Hollingdales while still finding his advocacy feet holds great promises and presents good value.  Similarly Tom Porter, previously a Senior Associate at Ashurst with expertise in arbitration and adjudications also looks promising.

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